Hannukah begins in just three days, and Christmas is only two weeks away! But don’t panic. There’s still time to find the perfect gift for the photo geek in your life (or for yourself – I won’t judge). Yes, as I’ve done the past five years, I’m here once more to help you pick something special, with the 2020 edition Casual Photophile holiday gift guide for photographers. (Pro tip – if you want something on this list, send it to those who are buying you presents!)
We’ll start with small gifts. These items will be the perfect lead-in to the big present – an appetizer of sorts. I can see some of these gifts working well as stocking stuffers, too. Prices for these gifts fall between $5 and $25.
Film – This one should be obvious. If the photographer in your life is a film shooter, there’s no gift that she or he would love to unwrap more than a few rolls of film. For a safe bet, buy the old standbys like Ilford HP5 or Kodak Portra, or choose something more exotic like Cinestill 800T or Ferrania P30. Another tip – if your film shooter has never tried a certain type of film (let’s say black-and-white or color or infrareed, etc.), push them out of their comfort zone with a gift of whatever film they’re unlikely to buy themselves. They’ll thank you for the creative push. Buy film from B&H Photo here. Buy film from our shop.
Shoot Film Co. Merch – Our buddy Mike Padua’s company, Shoot Film Co., is well known among retro photo nerds. His vintage-inspired and analog-centric shirts, pins, and patches are nearly guaranteed to be spotted at any film camera photo walk. Shoot Film Co. offers plenty of designs and plenty of products, all hitting under that $25 limit. Browse the lot here.
Ilford XP2 Single-Use Camera – What’s great about these is that they’re loaded with Ilford black-and-white film (which many newcomers to photography have never tried), and that they’re dead simple to use. Just point and shoot, and then send the camera in for development at any photo-processing lab (these use C41 chemistry film, which can be developed anywhere). A great gift for someone who’s never shot film before. Get yours here.
Film Canister Key-chains – A few years ago I began selling key-chains in my camera shop. These are simple key-chains made by combining an authentic 35mm film canister with a stainless-steel split ring key-chain. I priced them reasonably at $5 a pop, and they’ve sold well over the years. Occasionally we even make a few out of rare and unusual canisters (in some cases these canisters are over fifty years old!). Get them in my camera shop here.
Kodak Film Holders – A brand new film case from Kodak utilizing their classic colorways from the 70’s. Made of high-tensile strength steel, these cases are both handsome and built to last. They comfortably hold up to five rolls of film within a snug internal insert; this piece can also be removed if you’d like to use the case for objects other than film. Just a gorgeous little storage box. Every one of my writers wants one of these. A perfect gift at $25. I’d buy them from our friends at Brooklyn Film Camera.
Shirts for Photo Geeks – There are a lot of great t-shirt designs for photo nerds nowadays. I’ll just quickly list some favorites here, including (if you’ll excuse the self-promotion) some of the best-sellers in our own shop.
A Beautiful Camera Strap – I love the idea of a gorgeous camera strap, but find it difficult to splurge and buy myself one. And I’ve found a lot of photographers are the same way. We’ve got five different luxury camera straps that we’ll never buy bookmarked in our web browsers. We’re waiting for a kind friend to buy them for us! This makes the holidays a perfect opportunity to upgrade your photo geek’s crummy out-of-the-box strap to one of pure luxury. Here are a few of my favorite camera straps.
- Tap & Dye Leather – I used a Tap & Dye strap for years and it only got better with age. Made of sturdy leather and beautifully stitched, they’re simple, classic camera straps. Get yours here.
- Hawkesmille Westminster – The most luxurious leather strap that I’ve ever used, the Hawkesmille is made in England of Horween Chromexcel leather (which means its unbelievably soft and strong), features a wide neck pad, and looks simply stunning. This is the strap that’s permanently affixed to my most precious camera. Get yours here.
- Peak Design Slide – The best strap for those who care most about comfort and functionality, the Peak Design Slide is a quick-disconnect, easily-adjustable pro-spec strap that will do the job all day long without straining the shoulder or neck. It’s also particularly gorgeous in the Ash colorway. Get yours here.
- Artisan and Artist – The classic cord strap made of Japanese silk. The new Hiramaru-Karagumi “gradation” strap adds some style, but you’ll need to find a distributor who sells that particular model. B&H Photo carries most of the line. These straps are comparatively pricey, but there’s no finer cord-style strap available.
- Hyperion – Similar to the Artisan and Artist design listed above, these acrylic cloth woven straps have less refined connectors on the ends and aren’t quite as supple compared with the A&A straps. But they cost about a fifth the price of the Japanese import. Custom orders are welcome – pick your colors wisely. Get yours here.
A Camera Bag – Much like camera straps, camera bags are boring and most photographers buy them reluctantly. We’d just rather spend our money on lenses, I guess. But a good camera bag is absolutely essential! If the photo geek on your list has been putting off the purchase of a good bag, this will make a great gift. The best camera bags offer a balance of functionality and style. Here are my personal favorites (I’ve used every one of these).
- Vinta Co. Type II Backpack – I tested the Vinta Co. S-series backpack a couple of years ago, and I still use it weekly. It’s proven to be a long-lived, comfortable, and spacious bag. It also looks good. While the S-series bag has been discontinued, the Type II replaces it. The new Type II comes in a variety of colors, and at $118 – $148 (on sale for the holidays) it’s a surprising value in a style segment that often sees price tags at the $300-or-higher mark. Get yours here.
- ONA Bags – The pricey style option, most ONA bags are made typically of leather, waxed canvas, and similarly highfalutin materials. They lead with style and follow with function. So while they look damn good, don’t expect them to be as practical as a standard camera backpack. (Though to be fair, they do offer a couple of “serious” photographer bags.) I’ve had the Brixton for about five years, and while it’s not the best “camera bag,” it is my best looking bag (for what that’s worth). Get yours here.
- Think Tank Streetwalker – For those who care about function over style, Jeb recommends this bag. Here’s an excerpt from an article he wrote on his favorite camera accessories. “To this day I continue to use the same bag I’ve had since receiving it as a gift in 2014 — the Streetwalker from Think Tank. I place Think Tank in that class of camera bag manufacturers responsible for the modern iteration of the camera bag: typically a backpack, black and grey color schemes, designed with comfort and carrying capacity in mind, and, yes, boring. I used to be someone that looked for a unique, attractive camera bag. Something that stood out in a crowd. But the more I found myself traveling to different countries and locations known for creative pickpockets (I’m thinking of the area around Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia) the more I warmed to the concept of a boring bag being a safe bag. Something not easily noticeable by those with sticky fingers.” Get yours here.
A Good Tripod – Are you starting to see a trend here? Yes, tripods are again one of those items that every photographer needs, but which few go out and spend the money to buy. Get your photo geek a good, solid tripod for the holidays and they’ll thank you for years (probably by giving you some star-trail or long-exposure photos to hang on your wall). The best value tripod I’ve used is the Oben AT-3565 Aluminum Tripod with BZ-217T Triple-Action Ball Head, currently priced at an easy-to-swallow $109. It’s a great entry-level tripod, and one which will do most of what any photographer needs for years. For the ultimate in compact tripods, buy the Peak Design Carbon Fiber tripod (at a much harder-to-swallow $599).
Penumbra Foundation Tin-type Portrait Session – For those looking to buy an experience, rather than a product, few experiences could be as interesting or exciting to a photo geek than a session at Penumbra Foundation’s tin-type portrait studio, where Penumbra Foundation photographers hand-pour chemicals onto enameled sheets of metal to create 19th-century style instant photos. A truly unique gift, portrait sessions start at $168. You’ll need to be in New York City, naturally. More info here.
A New Old Camera – I can’t necessarily recommend one specific camera here. But if you’re interested in browsing for a classic camera for your photo geek, I can at least point you toward our shop F Stop Cameras, where we sell clean, tested, and guaranteed cameras to customers all over the world. Yes, this is self-promotion again, but your purchase helps us produce the free articles here on Casual Photophile, so forgive me if I occasionally shill to pay the bills. Browse the shop here.
Gifts for Kids
Their First Real Camera – We’ve got two little girls at home – one is three years old, the other is five, and I’ve found that the gifts that they enjoy the most are the ones which are interactive and allow them to exercise their imaginations. And the perfect gifts are those which encourage their curiosity and allow them to create something. Naturally I’ve already given both of my children a couple of cameras of varying type. And each was purchased for under $50. The Instax Mini that they each received last Christmas is a constant joy for them, and seeing their photos is a joy for me and the rest of the family. There are also great and inexpensive digital cameras available that work perfectly for kids ages six and up, right into those dreadful teenage years. If you need some help choosing the best camera for your kid of any age, see my article on that very subject here!
If I had to pick, the best camera for kids (generally) will be the Fuji Instax Mini 9 or the just-released Instax Mini 11. These are a great choice for little kids because they’re inexpensive, about $65, and come in a variety of colors that kids will like. The viewfinder is easy to use once they get the knack, and the simple controls help kids take effortless photos. There’s a power switch, a shutter button, and that’s just about all. Most important, Fuji’s cameras work perfectly every time. Exposure is spot on, and photos look good (something that’s not always a given in instant photography).
As with all instant film cameras, the film can be pricey. The most popular Instax film product is the Mini two pack, which offers 20 Instax Mini photos for about $12. That’s not cheap, but it’s the most affordable instant film in the world right now. A good opportunity to teach children about the cost of goods and being conservative with their photography (“choose your shots carefully”). Instax film may also be a great motivator – “clean your room and you’ll get some film.” There are nearly limitless film varieties to get kids excited – Disney Princess, Frozen, Star Wars, travel-themed film, rainbow film, mermaid film, Hello Kitty film… the list goes on.
Father’s Factory Wooden Toy Cameras – I was contacted a few weeks ago by Father’s Factory, a California-based company which makes charming toy cameras. These toy cameras made of walnut and beech wood are perfect play cameras for young kids. They come with spinny dials, clicky shutter buttons, detachable accessories, viewfinders to peer through, and a spinning kaleidoscopic lens prism built into the lenses which kids can look through to see a multifaceted view of the world around them. Importantly, they’re non-toxic, lead-free, paint-free, and chemical-free. I was so impressed by these toy cameras that I’ve begun stocking them in my camera shop. If you’d like to buy one from F Stop Cameras, you can do so here.
Well if you haven’t found a good present for your photo geek by now, I’m not sure I can help. Good luck.
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